From Young Composers
Jump to: navigation, search

A suite is a set of related or unrelated instrumental pieces, movements or sections, usually short, played as a group, and usually in a specific order. In the 18th-century suites were also known as overtures or, in France, ouvertures.


See also: Baroque suite. The original term suite de danses was the name given to a set of dances in the early 17th century and the suite was popularised in the Baroque era.

The Suite de danses would contain the following sections:

  • Prelude
  • Allemande - French word for 'German'. It is a stately German dance with a meter of 4/4.
  • Courante or Corrente - the former is a lively French dance in 3/4 time, while the Corrente is an Italian dance in quick 3/4.
  • Sarabande - a slow, stately Spanish dance in 3/4 time.
  • Intermezzi - This section consists of two to four dances at the discretion of the composer that may include a Minuet, Bouree, Polonaise, and/or a Gavotte.
  • Gigue or giga - The Gigue or 'Jig' originates in England, and is a fast dance, normally with a meter of 6/8. The Italian giga is rarer than the gigue, and is faster with running passages over a harmonic basis.


The first suites to appear in the music repertoire were from the late 16th century. The form at the time was chiefly comprised of light dances such as Peuerl's Newe Padouan, Intrada, Dantz, and Galliarda of 1611. By the middle of the 17th century, the form had developed to include dances such as the Gavotte, the Allemande, the Sarabande, and the Gigue. Many Baroque composers continued this tradition up to the middle of the 18th century. This form of the suite passed into antiquity with the advent of the Symphony. The modern usage of form as orchestral works derived from film, incidental music, and opera was first begun in the 19th century by composers including Tchaikovsky, Bizet, and Grieg.

In the Impressionist era, piano suites were especially coveted with Debussy and Ravel both having multiple forays in the medium often with programmatic overtones. Among the most famous are Ravel's Miroirs suite (a piano suite of five vaguely titled characters pieces each intended to represent specific acquaintances of the composer) and Gaspard de la Nuit (a series of three formidable and incredibly difficult pieces based off of a collection of poems by the same name). Debussy also composed his Suite Bergamasque which contains one of his most enduringly popular pieces, Clair de Lune. Children’s Corner being another popular (albeit not as quite) suite by Debussy. In addition, Debussy and Ravel both composed orchestral suites with the former writing a suite of three vaguely named tone poems entitled “La Mer” and the latter composing two orchestral suites and one piano suite based off of his ballet, Daphnis et Chloé.

Famous Suites

Baroque Era

  • George Frideric Handel:
- Music for the Royal Fireworks
- Water Music

Romantic Era

  • Edvard Grieg:
- Peer Grynt Suite

Impressionist Era

  • Claude Debussy:
- Suite Pour Piano
- Suite Bergamasque
- La Mer
  • Maurice Ravel:
- Miroirs Suite
- Gaspard de la Nuit

20th century

  • Samuel Barber
- Excursions for piano
  • Bela Bartok:
- Out of Doors suite
-Suite for Piano


- Dolmetsch Online Music Dictionary [1]

- IMSLP [2]

- Wikipedia [3]

Musical Forms
Polyphonic forms CanonCanzonaInventionFugueOrganumRicercarRoundSinfornia
Sectional forms Strophic formChain formBinary formTernary formRondo formArch formRitornello form
Cyclical forms BalletConcertoMassOratorioOperaRequiemSonataSong cycleSuiteSymphony
composed forms
BagatelleFantasiaEtudeImpromptuPreludeRhapsodySymphonic poem
Dance forms AllemandeBalladBoleroContradanceEstampieJigPolkaWaltz

French: CouranteGigueMinuetSarabande

Italian: BarcarolleSaltarelloTarantella

Polish: MazurkaPolonaise